Study Abroad Survival Tips for Barcelona
Coming from the United States for a study abroad program in Barcelona is one of the biggest adventures of my life so far. While in the Catalan capital I took classes, had an internship, and either traveled to a new country every weekend or explored new areas of my home for four months. While working as a Communications and Marketing intern at Apartment Barcelona I was given the opportunity to collaborate with people from all over the world who spoke just about every language you could imagine.
With so much going on constantly while only in a new country, sometimes it can be a little difficult to take a moment, breath, and appreciate this incredible city. Whether you are coming to study abroad here, are thinking about it, or are still finishing up those precious last weeks of classes, I hope this guide can help you to see some of the best places (in my opinion!)
Those first few weeks after moving to Barcelona can be a bit hectic and alarming for college study abroad students. The city seems endless, the restaurants are too expensive and don’t have anything you’re hungry for, and the overload of sangria makes your stomach hurt. While this city is massive (you will eventually see the beauty in that), there are many ways to make this place feel like home while enjoying every moment of your short time here.
This is a huge thing that can scare you away early on, but once you get it right, you will be so happy that you are living in the heart of some of the best cuisine. You try to order olives and don’t realize there are anchovies in the middle, you want a sandwich but end up with a loaf of bread with one piece of cheese in the middle, you try to order a coffee and end up with a much too strong espresso shot. All of these little mess-ups will happen, and honestly they are part of moving to a different country and embracing yourself in the culture.
However, once you start to get a swing of things, here are some of my favorite spots that will keep you somewhat in your comfort zone while also making you realize the beauty of food in Barcelona.
If your school is located near Plaza Catalunya or you find yourself around the city center, this charming café is the ultimate spot to grab some lunch with friends or do some homework solo. With chai tea lattes, massive oatmeal cookies, melty sandwiches, and one of the prettiest salads you will find, this place is perfect for anytime of day when you need a break.
I suggest the menu del dia, which is one of best deals around this area. For around 11 euro you get a drink, a main dish (with a side), and a coffee! My personal favorite is the veggie burger paired with either French fries or a salad (depending your mood) and a glass of their crisp white wine. Don’t worry about the wine before class, because you get a coffee after your meal.
If you’re looking for some true classic tapas dishes, Pepe Tomate has just about everything you could imagine and so much more. Tucked away in Gracia, this little neighborhood corner spot is highly sought out by the locals, because it is just that good! Here you can get your Catalan specialties such as patatas bravas with tasty sauces as well as mushroom croquetas that melt in your mouth. However, if you are looking for something very unique and delicious, try the spinach balls topped with fresh honey as well as the zucini salad dressed with shaved parmesan.
I suggest to eat dinner on ‘American time’ or around 7 to beat the rush, otherwise you will have to make a reservation.
Truly hidden in the Gothic Quarter, this restaurant could be a museum in itself with dim lighting and unbelievable cathedral-like architecture. This spot takes a different approach to tapas as well as having (in my opinion) one of the best mojitos in town. If you’re looking to eat out with a group or have visitors, this is the place to go. You can call ahead and make reservations and the staff is very accommodating. Don’t leave without getting the chips and guac, salmon, and Greek salad.
Not traditional tapas, but the small portions and reasonable prices make it easy to get a variety of dishes and pass them around the table.
If you can’t travel to Greece while here, this is the closest thing you can get to it as well as the best pita and gyro I’ve ever had. Right in the heart of Gracia, an area which is well worth spending the day in, this Quick Greek Gracia will have you coming back for more. The chicken pita is seasoned so well and topped with gracious dollops of fresh made tzatziki sauce (spicy sauce also available) as well as thick cut French fries. Get all of this and a drink for less than 10 euro and you’re guaranteed to be satisfied all day.
You can’t study in Barcelona and not find yourself at the beach nightclubs every now and then. However, if you’re looking to just get a fun drink or are looking for a place to pre-game for the clubs, you must check out these bars.
El Born is the perfect neighborhood if you want to duck out of all of the craziness of the city for a day or night. The shopping is great and reasonable, the restaurants in my opinion are some of the best, and lucky you; there is a super fun bar! With very dim and all red lighting, this bar has all of the vibes of a fun club without actually being one. With an entire shelf of gin and incredible mojitos, you are ensured a good time. If the alcohol gets you a little hungry, try some of their in-house tapas and keep the night going.
Being in Barcelona and not going to one of their two Chupitos is basically a crime. With over 600 of the coolest shots you will ever have all at two euro, it is a must do. You can get anything from roasted smores shots (yes they give you marshmallows on sticks) to tequila and Tabasco shots (be warned). Most shots are lit on fire by the talented and fun bartenders, making this bar a cheap way to start the night and get some pure entertainment.
If you’re looking for a fun night filled with people from all over the world, try out one of the two Ovella Negra’s in Barcelona. If you want a more cozy atmosphere with a fireplace, head on over to the one located on Calle de les Sitges, but if you’re looking for a lively beer-hall feel, head on over to Carrer de Zamora. Both offer incredible drink deals including 5L mini taps of sangria or beer for 30 euro, perfect for groups and a guaranteed awesome night out. If you want to avoid that sangria stomachache, I suggest the ‘sangria de cava’ which is mixed with a little bubbly.
Day Trips near Barcelona
If you’re staying in Barcelona for the weekend but still have a case of the travel bug, there are so many quick and beautiful trips that you can take in a day or even a few hours to get you out of the city.
Unfortunately, most study abroad students only know about going to Sitges for Carnival at night. While the city truly comes to life during this time, it is a shame to not explore this incredible coastal town during a regular day. Take a train from Estació de França to Sitges and it will cost you under 10 euro for a round trip. The town itself is filled with some of the best shops, most incredible seafood, and a breath-taking beach that is perfect for lying in the sun and watching the surfers or walking around.
El Bunker Carmel
There are many spots in Barcelona where you can find unbelievable views. However, the bunkers not only offers a spectacular panoramic of the city, but also a very local and easy-going atmosphere as well. The first time you go, you may believe that you are completely lost and trespassing in someone’s backyard. Keep walking and taking the steps and when you finally get to the top it will be hard to leave. My suggestion is to head there around 7 so that you can catch the sunset as well as the way the city starts to light up at night. Going without a bottle of wine, some fresh baked bread, and some cheese is truly necessary.
Cures For Homesick Days
Moving to a completely new country and traveling most weekends tends to pile up stress and it is inevitable to get those days where the city seems to big and home feels just too far away. Take a breath, put on some walking shoes, and go enjoy all that you have here.
Afternoon at the Beach (duh, but actually make it a habit)
While the size of Barcelona can be overwhelming, it can also be a very beautiful thing. Cabs honking, people everywhere, and hectic city streets are enough to put anyone over the top. Whether with a friend or solo, spending the afternoon on the beach can fix everything. It is necessary that you grab a few beers and get a sandwich from Bo de B. When you see the line coming out the door and locals everywhere you may want to turn around but wait it out.
With fresh cooked chicken right in front of you and some of the most vibrant toppings, this is truly one of the best sandwiches that I’ve ever had. Nothing can fix the blues like an amazing sandwich, some beer, and the warm sun beating down on you.
While the Spanish Netflix has a very impressive variety of movies (in English), heading to the theatres has a way of making you feel comfortable. Most of the English-speaking movies will also have subtitles, which gives you a chance to enjoy the movie in your native language while still practicing you Spanish/Catalan. These movies are not the ones that are showing in the United States and are aimed to Europeans, which makes it all that more of an experience! My favorite theatre is hidden in the Neighborhood of Gràcia, Cines Verdi, but there is also Casablanca Kaplan on Passeig de Gràcia.